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Chinese Herbal Medicine: "Gift of Heaven and Earth"

It began in China over four thousand years ago, but today, it's practiced the world over. Chinese herbs don't only come from China, they come from everywhere,. Cinnamon from Vietnam, cardamom from India, honeysuckle from Japan, and even American ginseng from Wisconsin are now established as Chinese herbs.

Chinese herbal medicine is easily the the most highly evolved medical system in the world. Its immense scale of experience spans countless trillions of administrations over thousands of years.

Over 10,000 natural substances are catalogued in Chinese herbal pharmacopeia. These substances, referred to as "herbs", consists of thousands of plant species from all over the world as well as both mineral and animal materials. Chinese herbs are most often taken in formulae (combinations of herbs) rather than singly. By combining herbs, synergies have been discovered that vastly increase the medicinal effects. Blending herbs in this way also allows the herbologist to neutralize unwanted side-effects. These blends (formulas) consist of principal herbs, assisting herbs, directional herbs, and herbs that reduce the side effects, or aid the digestion of a particular herb. Herbs can be ingested as boiled teas called decoctions (tang), milled powders (san), pills (pian), tablets (wan), granulated or tinctured extracts, or draughts (steeped like tea). Topically, herbs are used in poultices, plasters, soaks, ointments, washes, and fumigants (burning herbs).

DECOCTIONS The potent odors and flavors of Chinese herbs are legendary. Boiling the herbs and drinking the tea will provide the fullest experience of these medicines. Commonly, Chinese herbs are boiled for 20 - 40 minutes, the dregs are strained out and the "tea" is taken warm or at room temperature. Boiling times are averaged according to the composition of the formula. Flower and leaf will yield medicine in 5 -20 minutes. Roots take 20 to 40 minutes; Shells and minerals must cook for at least one hour. A few herbs, like mint or tangerine peel, must be quick-boiled for only 1-5 minutes lest they loose their valuable volatile oils. These herbs are added separately to the boiling mixture just before completion.

HERBAL PILLS The Chinese invented the pill. In the twelfth century, Chinese doctors were prescribing pills much as we do today. Ancient formulas were often prepared as pills made from milled herbs bound with water, honey, ginger juice, or other substances. Therapeutic dosages of powders or pills range between 3 - 10 grams daily. That's usually a small handful of pills, taken two or three times a day. Though it may seem like a lot of pills, it's really only a few grams of medicine.

EXTRACTS The constituents of herbs can be extracted by water, alcohol, vinegar, glycerine, or chemical solvents.Most herbologists prefer to use low temperature water extractions rather than the standardized extractions used by Herbacuetical pill makers.

Simply soaking and herb in Alcohol, vinegar, or glycerine yield tinctures. They're easy to make and to take.

How To Take Chinese Medicine & Drink Chinese Herbal Decoctions

"If bad taste means strong medicine, you're cured. " Some people enjoy drinking herbal blends, but for many of us, effective doses of medicinal herbs taste bad. To make matters worse, cooking herbs can befoul your kitchen (if not your whole house). However using a little common sense can make this a lot easier.

First, while cooking herbs, ventilate the kitchen. This stops the odor from deterring you (and your family). If you find the taste of your medicine disagreeable, hold your nose when you drink your herbs. This eliminates almost all the taste. Drink your herbs lukewarm or at room temperature. Hot liquids must be sipped slowly. If you hate the taste, you'll want to drink it down quickly. Cold liquids have less taste but may be hard to digest.After drinking your medicine, chew a few raisins or place a drop of lemon juice on your tongue to eliminate any aftertaste.

Herbs can be absorbed up to 30% better when taken on an empty stomach. Allow at least a half hour after taking herbs before eating or taking additional medicines. There are some exceptions. If your medicine proves difficult to digest, try taking it with food or after eating. Some doctors believe that formulas designed for the upper body should be taken after eating. Some medicines are best taken with other liquids such as wine (injuries or vascular problems), broth (to aid digestion of the herbs), or salt water (messenger to the Kidneys).

Tinctures are best diluted with a small amount of water to reduce the caustic effect of the solvents they contain. Heating these liquids can evaporate some solvent. Use a small amount steaming hot water to dissolve water extracted granules (powdered). The hotter the water, the better these dissolve. If the water is too hot, however, you'll be forced to sip your medicine. So let it cool or add a little cold water. I briefly stir in an ice cube. Instant cold without a lot of extra liquid to swallow.

Milled powders can be boiled, taken as tablets or steeped as a draught (teabag).
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